Veteran shooting guard A.D. Vassallo quietly emerged as one of the top players in the ACC last season. A good 3-point shooter who also likes to take a lot of mid-range jumpers, Vassallo scored in double-figures in all but two games. Vassallo will be expected to carry much of the scoring load again, and he also will need to rebound more with the loss of Deron Washington, the team's second-leading rebounder.
Jeff Allen, one of the ACC's top freshman last season, led Virginia Tech in rebounding and blocks.
Sophomore point guard Malcolm Delaney ranks among the league's most promising young players. A shoot-first type, Delaney scored in double-figures in each of the last five games and shot 40.2 percent (47 of 117) from the 3-point line.
Sophomore Hank Thorns will see significant minutes backing up Delaney and may play alongside him at times. Much more of a distributor, Thorns provides a good change of pace for the offense.
The Hokies probably will play a three-guard lineup, and that means one of two sophomores ? Terrell Bell or Dorenzo Hudson ? will grab the other starting spot. Bell averaged just seven minutes per game last season, but the staff believes he has made some big strides this offseason. Hudson wasn't able to enroll until mid-December because of academic reasons, which slowed his development. However, he has the ability to score points in a hurry. Both will be part of the rotation, and their level of contribution will play a big role in where the Hokies finish in the ACC.
Overshadowed by a slew of stellar freshmen in the ACC last season, Jeff Allen deserved to be put in the same group as Duke's Kyle Singler (the ACC freshman of the year), North Carolina State's J.J Hickson and Wake Forest's Jeff Teague and James Johnson. Allen led the Hokies in rebounding (7.6 rpg) and blocks (1.2 bpg) and ranked third in scoring (11.8 ppg). He also finished second in the ACC in steals (2.1 spg), an extraordinary stat for a player who spends most of his time in the post.
Expect Allen to improve on those numbers and develop into a double-double threat. Allen has worked hard on his body and conditioning. He has lost more than 20 pounds since this time last year; he's now listed at 240 pounds.
Sophomore power forward J.T. Thompson should make strides after averaging 5.6 points and 4.1 rebounds off the bench. When Allen was serving a two-game suspension for touching an official last season, Thompson showed he's capable of more output. Thompson scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a loss to Duke and had 14 points and 12 boards in a win at Boston College.
Junior center Lewis Witcher (6-9/220) probably will begin the season as a starter to give the Hokies a big body to utilize on the inside. He'll be pushed for playing time by freshman Victor Davila, a 6-9, 240-pounder who was the No. 135 prospect in the 2008 class.
The Hokies' offensive game plan often changes from game to game. A devout watcher of film, coach Seth Greenberg likes to put together multiple sets designed to attack the weakness of each opposing defense. The Hokies will be more perimeter-oriented than in the past in an effort to get the ball in the hands of Delaney and Vassallo more.?
One or two lucky bounces and the Hokies would have made the NCAA Tournament in 2007-08 with an extremely young team. Six freshmen were part of the rotation. Losing Washington hurts, but expect significant improvement out of the sophomores - who now have valuable experience. Allen and Vassallo are all-conference types, and the Hokies also look to have good depth. The key is getting more contributions from the role players. We expect the Hokies to finish in the top five of the ACC and do just enough to capture an at-large bid in the field of 65 this season.
Man-to-man defense is a staple for the Hokies, who led the league in scoring defense (64.7 ppg) and ranked second in defensive field-goal percentage (40.7 percent) last season. They will sprinkle in some 1-3-1 zone.?
SHOES TO FILL
Washington. Washington, who averaged 13.1 points and 6.5 rebounds, will be best-remembered for his high-flying dunks - which made him a regular on highlight reels. But his defense may be missed more. He had a penchant for making a key block or deflecting a pass when the Hokies needed it most.
MUST STEP UP
Bell and Hudson. The 33.1 minutes a game that Washington played probably will be divided up between these two. They won't be expected to equal Washington's numbers, but with that kind of playing time, they need to give the Hokies about five or six points apiece.
Davila. He has the size and strength to make a quick transition from high school to college, and could become a starter by the time ACC play begins. He turned down scholarship offers from Clemson and Wake Forest to become a Hokie.
Andrew Skwara is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.